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Saturday morning quotes 7.13: Lachrimæ IV

September 15, 2018
Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, London 1612

“Hei mihi quod vidi”, Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, London 1612

This is the fourth in our series on John Dowland’s important work of instrumental music, Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares, published in 1604.  While the beauty and immediacy of the music is more or less easily grasped by performers and non-specialists alike, the order, the deeper meaning and the overarching concept of Dowland’s work has lain in obscurity for the past 400 years.  Just like many Shakespearean puns and allusions, a modern sensibility will admit the sounds but not comprehend their meaning let alone their context.  Fortunately, we have the benefit of the probing work of a few intrepid musicological explorers to guide us toward understanding.

David Pinto, known for his research and meticulous editorial work on sources of music for bowed instruments, has published along with lutenist Lynda Sayce a modern edition of Dowland’s Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares for Fretwork Editions (FE26: Lachrimæ by John Dowland, edited by Lynda Sayce with David Pinto).  But Pinto’s work extends far beyond the arrangement of notes on the page, and he has arrived at a convincing theory for the meaning of Dowland’s Latin titles for each of the seven Lachrimæ pavans.  We quote Peter Holman’s concise explanation of David Pinto’s interpretation.

“Recently, David Pinto has proposed an orthodox religious interpretation of the Latin titles, taking his cue from the connection between ‘Antiquæ’ and the Lassus Penitential Psalms.  He suggests that the tears are those of the penitent, starting with those caused by original sin (‘Antiquæ’), and the subsequent sins of fallen mankind (‘Antiquæ Novæ’).  His woes (‘Gementes’) and grief (‘Tristes’) force him into apostasy (‘Coactæ’).  But his penitent soul wakes to the love of God (‘Amantis’), and is redeemed by divine compassion (‘Veræ’). This is an attractive idea, not least because it helps to explain the enigmatic oxymoronic title ‘Antiquæ Novæ’, the ‘new old tears’.  He suggests that it refers to St. Augustine’s famous phrase ‘pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova’ (‘O thou Beauty both so ancient and so fresh’), a reference to the ‘old yet new’ beauty of God, the implication being that the ‘old-new’ tears represent the renewal of original sin in every fallen mortal.  His proposal also has an interesting autobiographical dimension: he implies that the penitent is Dowland himself, and that ‘Coactæ’ (literally ‘enforced tears’) is concerned with his moment of apostasy from his Catholic faith in the 1595 letter to Cecil.”

– Peter Holman, Dowland: Lachrimae (1604), Cambridge Music Handbooks, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 49.

In his article “Dowland’s True Tears,” The Lute, Volume XLII, 2002, David Pinto provides an astute description of Dowland’s 1595 letter to Sir Robert Cecil, tying together his interpretation of the letter’s contents and Dowland’s Catholicism.  We discuss the letter in more depth in our final post in this series.

While objectively outlining Pinto’s ideas, Peter Holman instead favors an interpretation of Dowland’s Latin titles based upon a broader look at the phenomenon of Elizabethan melancholy.  We have discussed the fashion of melancholy in the past, particularly in our popular post on the Willow Song.  But acknowledging that melancholy may arise from natural sources, when describing cause and effect, Dowland’s contemporaries did not secularize the phenomenon as modern commentators are prone to do.

In line with Pinto’s interpretation, Timothy Bright wrote in 1586 of the sort of melancholy that springs from religious guilt and prompts men to exceed their station in pursuit of that which they may believe God has withheld from them.

“I haue layd open howe the bodie, and corporall things affect the soule, & how the body is affected of it againe: what difference is betwixt natural melancholie and that heauy hande of God vpon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sinne, and feare of his iudgement…”

– Timothy Bright, “The Epistle Dedicatorie: To the Right Worshipful M. Peter Osbourne, &c.” A Treatise of Melancholie, published by Thomas Vautrollier, London, 1586.

A glance at Bright’s Table of Contents reveals his thoroughness in describing the outward symptoms of a melancholy condition.

Cap. 23. pag. 132. The causes of teares, and theire saltnes.

Cap. 24. pag. 135. Why teares endure not all the time of the cause: and why in weeping commonly the finger is put in the eye.

Cap. 25. pag. 148. Of the partes of weeping: why the countenance is cast downe, the fore-head lowereth: the nose droppeth, the lippe trembleth, &c.

Cap. 26. pag. 123. The causes of sobbing, and sighing : and how weeping easeth the hearte.

Cap. 27. pag. 157. How melancholye causeth both weeping, and laughing with the reasons how.

We consider this preoccupation with weeping and tears in light of the texts of Dowland’s songs to arrive at an interpretation of Dowland’s outlook, further reinforced by words from his own publications:

Nec prosunt domino, quæ prosunt omnibus, artes. (The arts which help all mankind cannot help their master), The First Booke of Songes or Ayres, 1597, title page.

Aut Furit, aut Lachrimat, quem non Fortuna beauit (Whom Fortune has not blessed, he either rages or weeps), Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares, 1604, title page.

It’s uncertain whether these inscriptions were the work of the author or the printer but in reference to the latter quote, we can say that Dowland both raged and wept.  To elaborate on the theme of religious melancholy, we quote a later and somewhat Puritanical source:

“Alas there are but few that finde the narrow way…and those few what are they? Not dancers, but mourners: not laughers, but weepers; whose tune is Lachrymae, whose musicke sighs for sinne; who know no other Cinqua-pace but this to Heaven, to goe mourning all the day long for their inequities; to mourne in secret like Doves, to chatter like Cranes for their owne and others sinnes.”

– William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix: The Players Scourge or Actors Tragaedie, E. A. and W. I. for Michael Sparke, London, 1633, p. 244.

Prynne’s words confirm the Tudor/Stuart world view, tying together religious melancholy and the ubiquitous familiarity of Dowland’s music and his meaning.

Peter Hauge offers a not necessarily contradictory overview of the artistic plan and contents of Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares.

“King of Denmarks Galiard – the first galliard which is named after Dowland’s master and brother of the new queen of Great Britain – is the centre of the whole collection. Two sets of Denaries – ten, the most perfect and universal number – are placed on each side of the piece, giving the impression of the king, not as an ordinary earthly man, but as a very special and supreme person among all the dedicatees.”

“The number seven has a special meaning as it is composed of three, signifying Trinity and the universe, and four, symbolising the elemental world. Seven is also the unification of the intellectual (mind) and physical (body) worlds…It is tempting to suggest that the entire collection corresponds to the three distinct realms of the christianised Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology popular in the Renaissance:

1. The seven Lachrimæ pavans (nos. 1-7) correspond to the supercelestial sphere above the planets (the abode of God), which was believed to be constant, orderly, and eternal;
2. the titles of address (nos. 8-14) correspond to the planets;
3. the last seven pieces (nos. 15-21) correspond to the inferior and terrestrial world, often described in terms such as inconstancy, corruption, and generation.”

“It seems most likely that Dowland, the composer, editor and publisher, was very conscious of the way in which he compiled the volume of music, creating sections and placing the movements in a specific order. He employed symbolism and allegory to create an entity, suggesting a hidden meaning in the same way as the universe contained secret knowledge. One is tempted to conclude that this collection of music is a microcosm – that is, an image of the “true and real” universe (macrocosm) – containing a proper Platonic correspondence: as Apollo, the sun, is the centre of the universe, Christian IV is the centre of Dowland’s universe – and of his creation: his most important volume of music.”

– Peter Hauge, “Dowland’s Seven Tears, or the Art of Concealing the Art,” Danish Yearbook of Musicology 29 (2001), ppg. 13 -15.

With apologies for an abrupt ending, we close for today in order to rehearse.  We continue our series next week with more on Dowland’s Lachrimæ, or Seaven Teares.

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